km travelled today: 12Total TA km: 198
This morning we woke up at the freedom camping site before kilometer 186 on the Puketea Ridge Track, with no idea that at around 11pm we’d be finishing our night by preparing and eating a freshly caught wild rabbit, given to us by a stranger in camouflage named Jeff.
After a lazy morning due to our short travel day we started hiking up the Puketea Ridge which was sort of killer – the track seemed to climb forever, impossibly steeply, up the jungled ridge. Our saving grace was that it hadn’t rained overnight, so the ground wasn’t even close to Raetea-level muddiness. I don’t think even with rain it would be that bad. After some km of frequent gasping water breaks the trail flattened, moseyed around on the ridge a bit, and dropped to an intersection with a gravel road. We took the gravel road the remaining 9 km to camp at the edge of the forest, at the Puketi Forest Hut (backcountry hut passes NOT honored for some reason and a ten dollar fee for booking over the phone!), arriving early enough to spread out all of our gear on the lawn for drying in the sun and dry ourselves a little in the sun as well, happy and proud to have gotten through all three forests.
After a lazy afternoon of sun and I think four full meals within two hours, people began arriving in the camping area surrounding the cabin. Our British hiker friend and the couple from Kerikeri and Jasper’s French love-interest emerged from the forest and piled their stuff and selves into a van that they had apparently arranged to take them into town.
As dusk fell, a car pulled up into the parking area by the cabin, and a guy got out, got changed into camouflage, and started assembling a rifle, so Shepard went out to chat with him. He was hunting wild rabbits for fun, it appeared – he gives them to friends and also uses them to set traps that we saw all along our hike that are used for pest control (mostly stoats). He asked if we wanted a rabbit if he ended up shooting any (he got six the night before) and Shepard said of course. So as dark fell and we got tired we realized we would have to stay up late to prepare this dead rabbit that Jeff would inevitably walk in carrying – and that’s exactly what he did (after skinning and gutting it).
With our limited supplies (a stove, a pan, a leatherman, some spray oil and an Herb Potato flavor packet) we proceeded to make a lovely little experimental rabbit dish. Jasper bravely took the lead on butchering the animal and Jack did the cooking, which was done very long and hot to be on the safe side. It turned out a little gamey but much better than any of us had hoped when we first saw the carcass and realized the task that lay in front of us.
After cleaning the kitchen and our tools sooo thoroughly we built a fire in the wood stove and fell asleep to the muffled crackling, hoping for some torrential rain to make us feel extra cozy in the cabin.